Project code



Department of Psychology

Start dates

October 2023

Closing date

6 April 2023

Applications are invited for a fully-funded three year PhD to commence in October 2023. 

The PhD will be based in the Faculty of Sciences and Health, and will be supervised by Dr Sophie Milward, Dr Juliane Kaminski and Dr Esther Herrmann

Candidates applying for this project may be eligible to compete for one of a small number of bursaries available. Successful applicants will receive a bursary to cover tuition fees for three years and a stipend in line with the UKRI rate (£17,668 for 2022/23). Bursary recipients will also receive a £1,500 p.a. for project costs/consumables.

The work on this project could involve:

  • Data collection with 4-5 year-old children and chimpanzees
  • Travel to Uganda for cross-cultural data collection
  • Novel investigation of a key theory of collaboration

Humans have an extraordinary capacity for cooperation (Tomasello et al., 2005). One of the most promising proposals for how we achieve this collaborative sophistication, often known as the ‘Cooperative Eye’ hypothesis, argues that humans have a unique sensitivity to the eyes of a co-actor (Tomasello et al., 2017; Grossmann, 2017; Kano & Tomonaga, 2010; Gomez, 1996). In comparison to other primates, humans have an extremely high colour contrast between the white sclera and the iris and surrounding skin colour (Kobayashi & Kohshima, 1997; Kobayashi & Kohshima, 2001). This has been argued to be a human-unique adaptation to aid cooperation; by easily detecting the eye gaze of a partner this aids us in predicting their actions and coordinating accordingly (Tomasello et al., 2017).  

However, no studies to date have provided evidence that visual access to the eyes has benefits for cooperation. This project will fill this gap by making direct comparisons between the influence of visual access to the eyes on the collaborative performance of human children across cultures and one of our closest living relatives, the chimpanzee. Studies 1 and 2 will compare children from the UK and Uganda to test whether visual access to the head, but with eyes covered (Study 1) and to the eyes (Study 2) improves collaborative performance in children from diverse cultures. Study 3 will test a sample of chimpanzees and children, to identify whether the role of eye visibility is unique to humans. If access to a partner’s eyes is crucial during collaborative interactions, collaboration should collapse during conditions where access to eyes is not possible.

This project will test whether the key role of eye contact for coordination really is a human-unique and universally human adaptation. This will have huge theoretical implications for how we came to be such a collaborative species.

Entry requirements

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.


The ideal candidates will:

  • Demonstrate a passion for developmental and comparative psychology and a sensitivity to cultural differences.
  • Be willing to travel to Uganda for data collection.
  • Have experience with quantitative data collection with human participants.
  • Have experience working with children.

How to apply

We’d encourage you to contact Dr Sophie Milward ( to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV.  Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process.

If you want to be considered for this funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code PSYC7910423 when applying.